202. Aldeburgh to Southwold

September 2008

Before I’d completed my previous walk I’d already booked my train tickets for my next walk, in order to get a good price. However, after the farce of the public transport for my last walk (causing a 2 hour delay), it meant I hadn’t got to Thorpeness (where I had planned) but only as far as Aldeburgh instead. That meant I had further to walk today than I had originally planned (nearly 2 miles), but no more time in which to do it (since my train tickets back were only valid on a specific train and could not be changed without paying a fee) so I’d have to walk quickly on this walk in order to reach my planned destination, Southwold.

I was looking forward to going to Southwold. My parents had been on holiday in the area the previous year and told me how nice Southwold was, so I was looking forward to seeing it for myself. As the journey is now taking longer from home, as I’m getting further away, I had booked an earlier train this time – 7:38 from London. That meant I had to get up before 6am in order to get there in time. I managed it, but it did feel especially early given it was still dark as I made my way to the railway station.

Thankfully my journey this time was uneventful and I arrived at Saxmundham on time (the nearest station to Aldeburgh). Here I had a few minutes to have a quick look around this pretty town before my bus arrived to take me onto Aldeburgh.

Saxmundham

Saxmundham

Thankfully the bus to Aldeburgh was on time too and so I reached there a little after 10:30am, which gave me just over 6 hours to complete the walk, but there is a short river near Southwold. I hoped to have enough time to walk around it to the nearest bridge, but if that was not possible, I had the option of using a ferry instead, to hopefully make up some time if needed.

I was lucky with the weather too since it was a fine sunny day and still quite warm for late Autumn (this was the last weekend in September).

I made my way from the bus stop to the sea front by the lovely old Moot Hall, where I left the shore last time.

Moot Hall, Alderburgh

Initially, there was a nice promenade, so I could follow that heading north, which avoids walking on the shingle beach.

Alderburgh

I like Aldeburgh with some nice buildings along the sea front, many of which I suspect were once still hotels, some still were.

Alderburgh

Alderburgh

Palm trees in some of the gardens gave it a slightly tropical feel. As I reached the edge of the town I came across a rather large shell  on the beach.

The Scallop, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

This is a piece of artwork called The Scallop which was installed in 2003. It has proved controversial locally and has apparently been vandalised on 13 different occasions. There have also been petitions to have it removed. I’m not a fan of most modern art, but I really liked this piece of work. I thought it was well done and seemed appropriate on the beach. It is not as if it takes up all the beach either, as the shingle beach stretches for miles in either direction.

A little north of here the promenade ended, instead become a path over the back of the beach which was shingle. The road now lacked a pavement too, so I stuck to the path initially, but it was quite hard going so I soon abandoned it to walk closer to the sea, where the shingle seemed firmer.

The coast near Aldeburgh

This slowed my progress somewhat but I still preferred it to dodging the traffic on the road. A bit further ahead, the official route of the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Path (now the Suffolk Coast Path) joined my route (for some reason, it misses out Aldeburgh). I had hoped this might bring with it a better surfaced path, but it didn’t seem to, so I stuck to the shore.

Soon I was nearing the village of Thorpeness, which seemed to consist of mostly bungalows, or at least those behind the beach where.

The coast near Thorpeness

The village has an interesting history. Originally a hamlet it was developed into a private holiday resort by Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, a wealthy Scottish barrister and even had it’s own (short-lived) railway station. The family retained ownership until the 1970s when Glencairns’ grandson died, at which point the golf course and many of the properties had to be sold to pay the death duties. A particularly unusual feature, is the House in the Clouds. This was where an ugly water tower was built, but a wooden clapper-boarded house was built around it to disguise it, making it look like a very tall thin house! It is now used as holiday accommodation, though I somehow managed to miss it on my walk through.

It was a pretty village with some (probably fake) half-timbered buildings. One of them seemed to have what looked a bit like a church tower built into the roof.

Thorpeness

There was also this terrace of brightly painted houses. It is certainly an eccentric village!

Thorpeness

At Thorpness the supposed coast path again takes a diversion inland, though I couldn’t work out why, since a footpath is marked on the map right along the coast here. I did wonder however if that had been lost to erosion, as low cliffs began at Thorpness.

The coast near Thorpeness

These looked very soft and I suspected eroded quickly.

The coast near Thorpeness

They looked like sand stone cliffs and I was pleased to find that now small areas of sand were appearing at the shoreline. So I decided that rather than risk the possibly eroded away footpath on the coast or the official coast path further inland, I’d stick to the beach. The tide seemed far enough out there was no danger of being cut off.

The sand came and wet so it was a bit hard going at times, but it was a more direct route so I suspect still took less time than the official coast path with the bonus I was actually on the coast!

My suspicions about erosion were soon proved right, as I came across a concrete structure now on the back of the beach that had once been on the cliff top, probably a relic from World War II.

The coast near Thorpeness

Signs warned of the danger of cliffs falls, but at the shoreline I was far enough away from the cliffs. I’d now reached the end of Thorpeness so the buildings on the cliff tops had ended.

The coast near Sizewell

I had a brief area where the beach became sandy, but then it was back to shingle again. Ahead I could soon seen the large and ugly buildings of Sizewell Nuclear Power station a little over a mile or so ahead.

Before that there was a few houses, isolated from the rest of the village. Just past this house there were steps up from the beach. I decided to investigate this because the shingle was hard going. I found they led to a lovely path right along the cliff top.

The coast near Sizewell

Perhaps my fear that the path had been lost to erosion were wrong (though if so it’s odd the coast path isn’t routed this way).

There were nice views along the low cliff tops here and ahead out to sea I could see a couple of odd structures.

The coast near Sizewell

I initially though these might be all that remained of some sort of old pier, but I quickly realised they were probably connected in some way to the Nuclear Power station at Sizewell. One is marked on the Ordnance Survey map as “Tower” a description which didn’t seem to match what I was looking at (the other wasn’t marked at all). I suspect this is where water is taken from the sea to cool the reactors.

Actually there are two power stations here. Sizewell A had stopped producing electricity in 2006 and was (and still is), in the process of decommissioning, whilst Sizewell B (opened in 1995) is still generating electricity.

At Sizewell hall the path briefly headed through a small wooded area, and under a bridge before returning to the coast.

The cliffs were now much more gently sloping, almost large dunes really, and below was a large area of dunes heading down to the beach.

The coast near Sizewell

Soon the path I was on dropped down, to return to the beach. Here there were a few beach launched fishing boats again.

Sizewell Beach

The village of Sizewell is dominated by the power station but the village itself is actually very small with perhaps a couple of dozen houses and a pub. The power station is large but presumably most of the workers must live elsewhere.

It reminded me a little of Dungeness, though with less abandonment.

Sizewell Beach

Sizewell Beach

The beach at Sizewell

The path went in front of the two power stations (thankfully there were no access restrictions or path closures, as I had found at Hinkley Point back in Somerset). Sizewell A is especially ugly, a large and almost windowless slab of concrete rising above the heath and dunes.

Sizewell A Nuclear Power Station

Beyond it, Sizewell B is mostly a large blue building, but with a distinctive round dome. I could see a couple more structures out in the sea here which are again probably connected with the power station in some way.

Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station

A sign welcomed me to Sizewell beach and warned me to keep to the paths to protect the dunes from erosion (though I suspect another motive was to discourage you from going towards the power station).

The beach near Sizewell

I was glad to be passed the power stations and not longer after I was, a sign welcomed me to Minsmere Nature Reserve. I find it strange how we can switch from ugly heavy industry immediately to a nature reserve, it is such a contrast! It is owned and managed by the RSPB and has a wide variety of habitats, as well as covering a large area. Whilst there is an admission charge, the footpath continues along the coastal side of the reserve, so you don’t have to pay to walk along the path.

Minsmere

Again here I was seeing remains from World War II, with concrete remains lying on the beach. Sizewell was now disappearing from view in the mist and haze behind me and I was back to countryside again. Inland the view over the reserve was largely flat, as much of it is low-lying marsh and lakes.

The beach near Sizewell

Zooming in, I could spot the ruins of an old building inland. From the stone and design I suspected it was a church. A check of the map shows “Chapel (remains of)” so it was clearly a religious building at one time.

Minsmere

Just ahead I crossed over the Minsmere New Cut, a man-made drainage channel on the sluice gate.

Minsmere New Cut

Beyond this I could look inland over the lakes, surrounded by bird hides. In front of these were old concrete blocks that I believe acted as tank traps during World War II.

Minsmere, Suffolk

I could see a few birds on this lake, but without binoculars I couldn’t make out what they were.

Beyond this lake there were people on the beach again, the first I had seen since Sizewell, probably because I was now close to the car park at Minsmere. On the beach were some odd structures. A couple of wooden frames (that looked like they might be swings, except there was no swing), a sort of wooden table and what looked like giant metal woks (I suspect for barbecues). I am not sure who built them or why.

The beach at Minsmere, Suffolk

More puzzling at the shoreline was this structure, with a bell tied to the top.

The beach at Minsmere, Suffolk

I was puzzled as to what purpose this served as it clearly wouldn’t last long against the sea. Perhaps the intention is the waves cause the bell to ring as the tide comes in, I wasn’t sure.

I had now reached the end of the nature reserve, and the terrain almost immediately changes, as cliffs form ahead.

The beach near Dunwich

I was really enjoying the variety of scenery on this walk and enjoying being back beside the waves again. At this point however, the Suffolk coast path which had rejoined the coast at Sizewell, goes on another diversion inland. However there was now a line of firm sand at the shoreline I could see stretching into the distance.

It was now free of shingle and easy to walk in, so I planned to keep to the shore. It seemed highly unlikely there was any risk of getting cut off by the tide because there was a long bank of shingle behind that before I reached the cliffs. There were also several other people walking on the sands so I guessed it not be a dead-end.

However looking up at the cliffs I could also see people walking right along the edge, even though there was no path on the map, but it was an area of open access land (Dunwich Heath) so I decided to investigate.

It turns out there was a good path along the cliff edge, so I decided to follow that instead, I find it is nice to mix and match between the beach and cliff top on a walk if possible and having done plenty of beach walking so far, I fancied changing to the cliff top.

The beach near Dunwich

The cliffs were surprisingly high and so offered a view of the coast ahead curving away to the right, though Southwold was still out of sight in the haze.

Soon I reached an area of heathland, Dunwich Heath. I can see how the “Suffolk Coasts and Heaths” path got it’s name! This was an especially good time of year to do the walk as the heather and gorse was in flower, making it especially attractive.

Dunwich Heath

Dunwich Heath

Along the coast here were some temporary looking flags and some strange shaped constructions made of wood ahead (you can just seem them on the photo below).

Dunwich Heath

I assume another piece of artwork, but there were no signs. I enjoyed the views over the heath especially and was glad I had opted for the cliff top, there is such a variety of scenery along the coast.

After a while a path dropped down to the beach again, at the end of the heath. Since this marked the end of the open-access area of Dunwich Heath I decided to head for the beach again. Here I found a nice area of sand along the shore again, making for easy and enjoyable walking.

The beach near Dunwich

I was passing enough people to give me confidence I’d be able to get off the beach at Dunwich, ahead.

The beach near Dunwich

The cliffs were quite high now and made of soft sand-stone with holes made in them I suspect by Sand Martins that nest in the cliffs. I was passing the remains of a few dead trees on the beach too so I suspect this coast erodes quite quickly.

The cliffs ended as I approached Dunwich and the official coast path briefly rejoined the coast too. Dunwich is a tiny place, but it has a cafe and a car park, and blimey, I was surprised at how crowded the cafe was!

Dunwich beach cafe

I was tempted by an ice cream, but I couldn’t face the queue, so pressed on.

The beach at Dunwich

Dunwich is a small village now (population 84 in 2001) parts of which seem to be in the care of the National Trust. It is hard to imagine it now, but this was once a very important place. In the Anglo Saxon period it was the capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles and at it’s height it was an international port of a similar size to London at the time.

However it fell into a decline when battered by numerous storm surges (the first in 1286) which have claimed the majority of the village in the intervening years. The Doomsday book described it as having 3 churches and a population of 3000 in 1086. All were lost to the sea and legend has it that in rough seas the bells of the churches can still be heard.

So Dunwich is a mere shadow of it’s former self and now a small and fairly sleepy village. It has a pretty shingle beach which was proving popular today, and a couple of beach launched fishing boats. At Dunwich the coastal path had once again gone on one of it’s meanderings inland, around the land side of the Dingle Marshes. The cliffs ended here at Dunwich and I could see there was again firm sand along the shore ahead, however there were also numerous ponds and small lakes on the marshes I could see on the map which I presumed must drain over the beach and might cause me problems.

The alternative and official footpath was longer and inland until Walberswick. I decided to take the risk and stick to the beach. It was the closest route to the coast, shorter and there were no cliffs to cause me issues if the tide came in (I could just head onto the marshes) and I could now make out Southwold in the distance ahead, which didn’t look that far now. The beach route was flat too so I was hoping I would make good progress.

The beach near Walberswick

At times there was mostly shingle rather than sand but it did not take long before areas of sand appeared again. Oddly and presumably connected with the marshes, occasionally I’d come across areas of mud at the water line, rather than sand or shingle.

The beach near Walberswick

However it was easy to get past all of these areas. Water flowing out of the marshes inland never caused me any problems and soon I was beginning to meet people again who I suspected had walked here from Walberswick, which I was now approaching.

The beach near Walberswick

As I got closer, the beach became increasingly sandy and perhaps as a result increasingly populated with families sitting on the beach and enjoying this fine autumn weather.

The beach at Walberswick

Ahead I could soon see the breakwater that marks the edge of the river Blyth.

The beach at Walberswick

The town of Southwold, my destination, is now about a mile ahead, but first I have to get across the river. I checked the time and I had just over an hour before I needed to catch the bus from Southwold. If I took the ferry and then walked from there to Southwold I’d probably be there in about 30 minutes, but that did assume I didn’t have to wait for the ferry. In practice whilst the ferry was marked on the map I didn’t know if it was running and if so how frequently. The alternative was to walk inland, a little under a mile, to the nearest bridge and then return to the shore on the north side of the river and then continue along the coast to Southwold. I suspected this would take me an hour or so and I had slightly longer than that. The river route also meant I’d not have to wait for any ferries and I’d walk more of the shore. So I settled on the latter option.

The tide was clearly quite far out, as the river had a line of mud flats alongside it.

Southwold Harbour from Walberswick

The other side had various fishing huts and boats moored up – it seemed this was quite a well used river.

Southwold Harbour from Walberswick

The path along the river bank was easy to follow and I was quite surprised at how much there was on the other side, the map had suggested just a few buildings, but there were in fact quite a lot, and a lot of people around them.

Southwold Harbour from Walberswick

Most seemed to be fishing related, but it looked like there were also boat yards as well.

Southwold Harbour from Walberswick

I soon reached the bridge over the river. This was once the location of the railway bridge that served the railway line to Southwold. The railway line to Southwold was only ever a narrow-gauge route which had a fairly tortuous history with numerous problems before it  finally opened in 1879 and connected to the main line at Halesworth.

It was never very successful and closed around 50 years later, in 1929. The metal of the tracks was used to create munitions during World War II, which marked the final end for the route. Today (as I was later to do), you have to take a bus from Southwold to Halseworth which is now the nearest station. In fact even the bridge over the river here is a later replacement as the original bridge was blown up during the war, the footbridge later being constructed on the supports of the old rail bridge.

The River Blyth near Southwold

At this more northern point of the river, it was now lined with pleasure craft, accessed via little jetties over the mud from the footpaths on either side. I did wonder how often these boats were used.

Having now crossed the river I now made my way briskly south along the river bank, back towards the coast. As I had seen from the other side, this was quite a busy area (officially Southwold Harbour, though remote from the rest of the town). It was lined with fishing sheds (many selling fresh sea food), a pub, a few houses and various other buildings connected with boating.

Southwold Harbour

Many of the fishing sheds were painted black and it reminded me very much of the old town area in Hastings.

Southwold harbour

Soon I was back to the beach.

Southwold

I’ve heard that the beach at Southwold tends to vary between sand and shingle, depending on what is washed up by the sea, the direction of the wind and so on. Today it seemed to be (mostly) sand and I could now see the attractive looking town of Southwold ahead. Unusually there was a lighthouse, but it was set back a bit from the coast and seemed to be in the middle of the town!

Once again the official coast path was inland, further inland than the road. So I didn’t bother with it, but followed the beach northwards.

Southwold

The beach was initially backed with sand dunes but soon these gave way to an attractive and varied range of beach huts instead.

Southwold Beach huts

Southwold Beach huts

I think these are something of a feature of Southwold and all are painted different colours. Now there was a promenade and I could follow this the rest of the way into the town.

As I neared the town centre there was both a higher and a lower path, so I opted for the higher, for better views.

Southwold

I reached Southwold Pier where I ended my walk for the day, pleased to have made it in time for the bus I needed to catch.

Southwold Pier

Southwold Pier is a lovely traditional pier, mostly made of wood with white-painted wooden buildings on it.

Southwold Pier

This has had a somewhat chequered history. Built in 1900 and was originally 250 metres long, with a landing stage at the far end. The landing stage was destroyed during a storm in 1934. Further storms in 1955 and 1979 reduced the pier further in length until just 18 metres remained. The pier changed owners in 1987 and the new owner set about a project of restoration and rebuilding, which was completed in 2001 and the pier was then 190 metres long and once again has a landing stage.

It is a rather eccentric pier. Rather than the usual arcade, there is an arcade called the “Under the Pier Show”, featuring machines made by Tim Hunkin. These are rather fun and Tim has also built an unusual water-powered clock on the pier.

Southwold Pier

I walked to the end of the pier and enjoyed the views along the coast from it.

Southwold beach

Southwold beach

Southwold Pier

Then I had to hurry back to the town in order to catch the bus.

Southwold

Southwold

Having found the bus stop on the main road I waited for the bus. It was to take me to Halesworth Station where I could then take the train to London and onwards home. Unusually it was timed to connect with the trains, arriving 5 minutes before the train was due and the times of the bus are even listed in the train timetable.

However the bus was late and didn’t arrive until just over 5 minutes after it was due. So I was now worrying that I would miss the train. I got in and took a seat, keen for the bus to get going as soon as possible. Another couple got on and said they wanted to catch the train and asked if we would make it in time. The driver assured them that we would have no problem connecting with the train.

By the time we’d reached Halesworth station we were 3 minutes late, just in time for the train and I was pleased to see we pulled up right in front of the station building. However when the couple who also wanted to catch the train went to get up he told them to sit down for a minute as he had to turn around the bus. They asked to get off first, worried about missing the train but he assured them “we’ve plenty of time yet”. Here was clearly a bus driver that would not be hurried!

By the time he had turned the bus round and opened the doors at last, I walked onto the platform just as the train was approaching the platform.

I was glad we’d made it (just in time!) and that I already had a ticket, as there would have been no time to buy one without missing the train. Thankfully the train was on time to London.

This time once I reached London I stopped for a meal with some friends who had gone to London for the day before taking the train home from London Waterloo. It was a nice meal and nice to catch up with friends, but stopping for a meal did make for a long day – I did not get home until gone midnight, and I had been up since before 6am!

This was a wonderful walk which I very much enjoyed. This time I was walking right next to the sea or on the edge of the cliffs almost the whole way, other than the brief walk around the river Blyth at Southwold. I was impressed with the variety of scenery to be found here, with sandy beaches, shingle beaches, marsh land, beautiful areas of heath and even some cliffs, something I’ve not seen for a while. There was also a brief area of industry around Sizewell which whilst not pretty was still interesting. I was also pleased to have found a shorter and more coastal route than the official coast path. Southwold was also a lovely town to have ended in. I ran out of time to explore it on this walk and so was looking forward to coming back.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Logistically it is a pain if you are driving to Aldeburgh because there is no direct bus links between Aldeburgh and Southwold. Instead the route is to take a bus from Southwold to Halesworth station, the train from Halesworth station to Saxmundham and then a bus from there to Aldeburgh, which takes around 1 hour 50 minutes.

First Norfolk and Suffolk Route 64 : Ipswich – Rushmere – Martlesham – Woodbridge – Melton – Ufford – Wickham Market – Saxmundham – Leiston – Aldringham – Aldeburgh. Hourly Monday – Saturday. No service on Sundays to Aldeburgh (Ipswich to Melton only on Sundays). It takes around 30 minutes to travel between Saxmundham and Aldeburgh.

Great Anglia TrainsThe East Suffolk Line : Ipswich – Woodbridge – Melton – Wickham Market – Saxmundham – Darsham – Halesworth – Brampton (by request only) – Beccles – Outlton Broad South – Lowestoft. Trains run hourly Monday – Saturday and once every two hours on Sundays.

Konect bus route X88 : Southwold – Blythburgh – Wenhaston – Halesworth Station – Halesworth – Ilketshall – Bungay – Broome – Ditchingham – Kirstead – Brooke – Poringland – Norwich. Hourly Monday – Saturday. No service on Sunday to Southwold (it runs between Halesworth and Norwich only on Sundaus).

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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6 Responses to 202. Aldeburgh to Southwold

  1. A lovely walk, and I’m glad the transport worked out for you this time.

  2. Anabel Marsh says:

    Alert, obviously, from Sizewell, very pretty! Some lovely little towns.

    • jcombe says:

      My main memory from Suffolk is in fact just how pretty most of the towns and villages were. It seems quite unspoilt (and largely undiscovered).

  3. owdjockey says:

    Looking forward to this section Jon. I also intend to visit the Bewery Shop or an Adnams pub……well it would rude not to!!

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